So how did bourbon get its name?
It makes perfect sense that a drink with such depth and class has a history shrouded in mystery.
While we may never know for sure, there are plenty of tales as to how bourbon got its name– most more elaborate than the next.
Here are three of the most commonly circulated, logical (if not grandiose) tales on how bourbon became bourbon.
The simplest point of origin goes all of the way back to 1785 when “Old Bourbon County” was established in Kentucky.
Micheal Veach, Louisville’s unofficial bourbon ambassador, begs to differ though, citing the fact that people didn’t start writing stories about any connections to bourbon in the region until the 1870s.
People had been referring to bourbon by name well before then.
A more likely version of events begins in New Orleans.
Two brothers, the Tarascons from Cognac, France, went to Louisville and began shipping whiskey down the Ohio River to New Orleans.
To mimic the taste of the expensive cognac that they knew to be popular in New Orleans, they began aging Kentucky whiskey in charred oak barrels.
As the barrels made their way down the river, they got a chance to age and picked up the flavors of the wood as they traveled.
As New Orleanians clamored for the brothers’ delicious whiskey, they began asking “for that whiskey sold on Bourbon street” by its name.
Yet a third account goes back to central France, nearly 1,000 years ago, to a part of the country called Le Bourbonnais, where the Bourbon dynasty began.
Through marriages, wars, betrayals, and crusades, Henry IV emerged, and we have France’s first Bourbon king.
Down the line, he was succeeded by Louis XVI, who was instrumental in the war for American independence, fighting against the Brits.
As a gesture of thanks, the legend goes, Bourbon County, Kentucky, the supposed birthplace of bourbon, was named in his honor.
Though none of these tales have been proven, the mystery adds to the appeal of such a timeless beverage.
These creative legends show how eager so many people have been to claim a part of bourbon’s storied past.
The best way to enjoy bourbon:
Rather than speculating on how Bourbon came to be, we prefer enjoying it as often as we can. Every bourbon expert reaches the same conclusion: the best way to enjoy bourbon liquor is to drink it the way that you like it.
Each palate is unique, as are the thousands of bourbons that are produced.
Everything from the water used to where the grains for the mash were grown (we’re partial to Texan grain sources, ourselves) to how long it was aged can affect a bourbon’s flavor profile.
While that information may be overwhelming to anyone but a Master Distiller, that also means that more than likely, there’s a bourbon you’ll love.
Here’s how to find a bourbon that you adore:
Your sense of smell can distinguish between many more different aromas and scents than your taste buds, so start here. ‘Nose’ your bourbon, by swirling it in the glass and inhaling the fragrance.
Many brands offer taster’s notes of their lines so that you know where they exist on a given spectrum.
Our Giant 91, for example, has ‘distinct wood flavors with notes of vanilla, caramel, rye, black pepper and oak.’
The rye in the mash often lends a sweet and spicy aroma to a bourbon, and you’ll be able to pick out some of these fragrances as you sniff.
Take your time and concentrate on sniffing and assessing for a few moments. If your nose is getting tired, put your glass down for a moment and come back to it.
After you’ve explored the scent notes of the bourbon, take a sip. Let it wash over your mouth as you hold it on your tongue to taste as much as you can.
Swallow, then breathe out of your nose.
As you continue to taste and sniff your whiskey, try to determine what you smell and taste.
Pay particular attention to details that you enjoy, like the texture or the mouthfeel, as well as the flavors.
Is it rich, deep, spicy, or hot? Is the finish, the flavors that stay after you’ve swallowed, long or short?
By paying close attention to the answers to those questions, you’ll be able to hone your search for the perfect bourbon.
Bourbon aficionados tend to frown on diluting the beverage.
Science says, however, that adding a drop or two of water or a single ice cube may help you unfurl the different layers of complexity in your drink.
Adding water breaks the surface by releasing the water repellent elements in a glass of whiskey. It also lowers the alcohol content ever so slightly, so you can taste more flavors.
Preferably you, and not the drink. Adding ice can numb your palate and make it more challenging to discern distinct tastes and aromas.
Ice can also dilute your drink more than you’d like it to as it melts.
If that’s a concern, consider whiskey stones that chill without the risk of watering down your drink, or large ice cubes or balls that have a lot of surface area.
The most important part of any bourbon trail is the journey.
Tastes vary from person to person, so get to know yours.
The more you taste, the better you will learn your preference and enjoy everything that bourbon has to offer. Most importantly, remember that there is no wrong way to enjoy bourbon.
We may never know how bourbon got its name, but we sure are glad to have it.
Now that you’re on your way to becoming a bourbon expert, feel free to tour our distillery on Clinton Drive to see how we make magic here in Houston.
Comment below and share with us how you like to enjoy your bourbon!